Age Of The Goonda: Cartel Madras Are An Unstoppable Force

Age Of The Goonda: Cartel Madras Are An Unstoppable Force

“We’ve grown up all our lives listening to straight white people...”

“Bitch, I’m bad. I’m brown. I’m gold,” Cartel Madras tell us in their lyrically sharp new single ‘Goonda Gold’. Eboshi and Contra make up Cartel Madras, a fearless sister trap/hip-hop duo based in Calgary with Indian heritage. The rebellious genre-bending duo have a slick flow and catchy hooks. Like Riz MC and M.I.A. before them, Cartel Madras are smashing barrier musically and are sure to blow your mind with their uniqueness.

They formed in 2017 but it became “a serious thing” from 2018 onwards, which is when they started performing. As you may expect, their musical influences are quite varied. “We grew up on a pretty interesting diet of hip hop- listening to Kanye, but also Sufjan Stevens and M.I.A. A lot of Indian artists too, like A.R. Rahman...”

The artists that have shaped and influenced the music they make includes Freddie Gibbs and CupcakKe. It’s a pretty eclectic mix.

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Music in general has played such an important part of their lives so far that they describe it as being “the backdrop of (their) lives in every phase of (their) lives”, adding: “We were always mixtape kids”.

Performing live is evidently their first love. Their lives shows are self-proclaimed as, “Really fun. Very loud. Sometimes scary and sometimes sweaty”. The energy of their shows was a conscious decision. Contra explains, “Before Cartel Madras, we went to a lot of shows and had really important moments seeing specific artists perform”. They wanted their shows to exude a similar sort of vibe, which is “very hip-hop”.

The duo are currently on tour in Canada, with some dates in the United States next year and plans to conquer India too. “Performing has always been a favourite part,” adds Contra. “The most fun. The most rewarding.”

She explains that, when Cartel Madras didn’t have a lot of releases out, their shows were a way for audiences to become introduced to their sound. “It was our shot to talk to our audience. (The stage) is a place where we really hone our craft. It’s a really engaging experience, especially as an artist. It’s a really interactive experience”.

We ask if it can be lonely being P.O.C. rappers in the music industry. Eboshi replies: “It’s definitely an isolating experience. It makes you come to terms, very quickly, with the interesting and unfair aspects of the music industry. Also, it’s isolating being a P.O.C. artist in a country that is only just recognising P.O.C. (specifically Desi) artists”.

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Being sisters helps. It helps them navigate the music industry together, but also supports them in their working relationship- from constantly “talking through the art [they create together]” to the natural chemistry they have when on stage.

Eboshi tells us: “(Being sisters) keeps us really honest in how we create and let’s us cut to the chase when it comes to critiquing. We self-analyse a lot”.

What about disputes? “Usually, we’re on the same page”.

However, Calgary (where they grew up) is described as “super white and super Conservative” and not necessarily where everyone can envision themselves becoming artists or even just exist outside of the stereotype.

“A huge part of Cartel Madras is representation for the communities we have membership to, as queer P.O.C., but this extends beyond communities that we have membership to, too,” Eboshi clarifies. “We’ve grown up all our lives listening to straight white people,” she adds, before going on on to articulate that, whilst those messages are no less important or listened to, there is room for another narrative. 

Their previous EP ‘Trapistan’, released last year, was an example of their alternative narrative. Cartel Madras are now preparing for the release of forthcoming E.P. ‘Age Of The Goonda’ (‘Goonda’ is a term which means “thug”).

Asked how they have progressed as artists since their last EP, Eboshi says: “‘Age of the Goonda’ is more representative of the Goonda rap sound we are crafting and building. It’s immediate and in your face. We’ve also worked with producers (on ‘Age of the Goonda’) we didn’t have (access) to with ‘Trapistan’. We’ve been able to grow our collective and team. ‘Trapistan’ was recorded in a basement with a dodgy home studio. ‘Age Of The Goonda’ has had more resources and time behind it. It’s a cleaner, sharper sound”.

Cartel Madras don’t shy away from incorporating their Indian heritage into their sound, and are keen to be seen by young Desis (westernised Indians) as the role models that weren’t available for them when they were younger.

“As immigrant kids in North America, a lot of time is spent apologising for space we take up, i.e. not being academic or not being in STEM careers or at home. [You get used to] saying you are sorry when you’re not sorry. Especially as competent POCs know, they spend a lot of time justifying why they belong in a certain [space]. [We want kids to] be unapologetic in their identity. This is why we belong everywhere,” Eboshi tells us.

Eboshi describes their songwriting as “a dramatic diary”. Going on to say: “We write our own verses in songs, telling our own stories”.

Their “loud, confrontational style” helps them evaluate personal relationships, especially how people react to them. Contra adds: “We’re in this weird space. We’re growing quickly. Things are happening really quickly for us. People are incredibly supportive and then there are others who are really not. Art and fame. It’s a weird mix.”

Next for Cartel Madras? They’re working on another E.P. and “extending the narrative of ‘Age Of The Goonda’”.

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'Age Of The Goonda' will be released on November 1st through Sub Pop.

Words: Narzra Ahmed
Photo Credit: Asim Overstands

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